The Field's contributors and successful Macnabbers share their Macnab advice on how to have a successful day, from which element to start with and why.
Anyone undertaking the ultimate sporting adventure will be keen to receive some well won Macnab advice. The Field’s expert contributors and successful macnabbers reveal their Macnab advice for novices, from which element to start with to how to handle the quarry. Will you follow their advice to fruition?
A Macnab inspires the doughtiest of sportsmen to misty-eyed reminiscences. But however one approaches it, one thing is certain – you can never guarantee a Macnab. Therein lies its siren appeal. The hill can bring any sporting champion to his knees. There is no pride to be had in an unfairly caught salmon or a badly shot beast. When chasing a Macnab, honour is all but even the skilled need to pick the right place to start. And if you are in need of some expert guidance before the off, we offer this Macnab advice.
TAILOR YOUR DAY TO THE ESTATE
Field contributor Adrian Dangar shares his Macnab advice. He believes “no Scottish estate can really guarantee all three parts of the Macnab”. The estate where he bagged his Macnab had “a productive river and obliging forest but few grouse”. In fact, the grouse ended up being the easiest part. He “didn’t shoot the stag until it was nearly dark”. His advice is to “consider what the estate is known for and tailor your day accordingly. Catch the salmon first. The fish is the only quarry species that’s a willing participant.”
Spontaneity is a large part of the excitement of bagging a Macnab, and the fish-before-breakfast rule is favoured by most. Sporting agent Mark Merison insists that the maxim “don’t lie to your game book” holds firm when Macnab mischief might be on the cards. A fraternal Macnab during the week gave some urgency to his attempt but with the fish left until last: “It proved to be the only fish I lost all week and while we might have filled the requirement (legally but unsportingly), a Macnab must above all be sporting.” He has, however, set his cap at the Macvermin.
Tarquin Millington-Drake thinks “the original Macnab is still the best”. Sporting fervour can often take an unexpected course. His Macnab advice: “If one gets the stag and the grouse and is really struggling for a salmon, go to the nearest waterfall, put catch-and-release aside for a moment, and shoot the salmon as it jumps the falls, as the grandfather of a friend of mine once did. Make sure you have one of those fish-retrieving labradors at hand.”
Johnny Scott’s Macnab advice includes trying out a different variety of Macnab. Altering the traditional Macnab is a way for sporting estates to showcase what they have to offer. Johnny Scott, who visited Ben Loyal for an action-packed day after a goose, a stag and a brown trout, says, “Estates are opening up their markets and encouraging fishermen to have a go at something else. These alternative days are also pleasingly affordable. The whole thing is very doable, especially the winter version – a goose, a woodcock and a hind.”
There are other methods of motivation. Dylan Williams was accompanied by his wife who offered a 10-year-old Bruichladdich whisky after the salmon, a 12-year-old taster after the stag, with the promise of a 15 year old after the grouse. It worked, though Williams insisted that it had everything to do with the “professionalism and knowledge” of the estate gillie, keepers and stalkers.
PICKING YOUR MACNAB
Rory Knight Bruce describes the classic Macnab as “the Cresta of Scottish sport”. Over the years he’s tried it in every order, only ever getting two out of the three. “The crucial thing is the fish, so first check the water and likelihood of success. Travel light with plenty of food and water, and a small hip flask for the gralloch. No ‘nip’ will ever taste as good.”
Sporting agent Charlie Brownlow hasn’t yet tried to achieve a Macnab but always holds the possibility in mind. “If I were to set out to get a Macnab I would forgo the grouse and try for two stags as they do in the book,” he says. His advice for the classic Macnab is, “Start on the river well before breakfast. Go for the end of September or October for the best chance.”
For something completely different, there is an enormous variety of game in South America. Nick Zoll was running a Patagonian fishing lodge when a group of English guests bagged an unusual Macnab: a guanaco (Argentinian llama), a Darwin’s Rhea and a brace of trout. March to April is the best time for the Patagonian stag rut but for The Field’s challenge you’d have to head north.
PLANNING WITH MILITARY STYLE AND PRECISION
Previous Macnabbers have some sterling advice for this year’s buchaneers. Dean Hemmings claimed a classic Macnab last year and urges, “pick the right estate” and fish first. “Make sure you’re confident in your choice of fly, up to speed with your knots and lines and make sure your leader’s fresh, so it won’t break. You do not want to lose this fish!” Marc Sale is adamant that the planning must be done “with military style and precision”.
Ruairidh Cooper who is a successful Macnabber reiterates the importance of choosing the right estate: “Picking the right day makes it easier to catch a salmon,” he says. He recommends “keeping an eye on river conditions and picking a day when the levels are dropping and the water is clearing. I would suggest bagging the stag first and then the grouse before concentrating on the fish.” It certainly worked for him last year, whereas Daniel Riddle votes for the fish first rule as does American Joe Thompson: “Be on the river at first light,” says Joe. His fellow American John Fields gives perhaps the best guidance for a potential Macnabber: “There is no substitute for great coaching.”